I stepped out of Fulham Broadway Tube Station proudly exhibiting my golden-yellow shirt in a sea of Chelsea blue. I didn’t feel intimidated by anyone around me – the Hornets sat in a lofty fourth place in the table, two points ahead of Chelsea. And when you take into account the fact that Watford had 10 points from a possible 12 on the road, a manager who plays to win every game and a squad supercharged with passion and desire, what reason did I have to be intimidated?
It felt like an age since I’d last visited one of the Big Six’s stadiums and been confident that I wouldn’t be let down by my team. I won’t pretend that I expected the win – I’m a pessimistic fan and always have been. I looked at our opponents last three games, none of which were wins, and thought to myself: “Surely a Chelsea backlash is imminent”. As a Watford fan travelling to Stamford Bridge in the Premier League, all you want to see is the players giving it their all – any kind of result is a bonus.
However, all of that changed during the game. Chelsea took the lead after just 12 minutes through a superb strike from Pedro, but the levels of belief were still speaking volumes in Watford’s demeanour and performance as the match progressed. The feeling among the away fans was very much “it’s still 0-0 lads” – or it ought to have been, given that the opening goal came as a result of an inexplicable decision to award a corner to Chelsea when the ball was blatantly bundled out of play off Eden Hazard.
A number of decisions have gone against Watford this season, and that’s why it’s so pleasing to see the players stick together even when it may feel like no one wants them to win. Last season, under Walter Mazzarri, the game would’ve been over at 1-0 because the team didn’t have the confidence to lift themselves up and get back into the match. But Marco Silva has instilled a fresh battling spirit into the squad, something which sends a shiver down the spines of the Watford faithful and makes us positively credulous right until the final whistle.
One thing you can always expect from a Marco Silva team is that if the setup is right, there are few teams around that can contain it once it gets into full flow. A short spell of bombardment on the Chelsea goal finally paid off for the Golden Boys as Frenchman Abdoulaye Doucouré pounced on a loose ball in the area and rocketed it past the hopeless Thibaut Courtois. A goal right on the cusp of half-time that would see the game level going into the break – just the sort of position we wanted to be in. Doucouré adores the club and its fans, running the length of the pitch celebrate his goal in front of a buzzing, bouncing, ecstatic group of 2,900 Hornets. Chants of Doucouré’s name were sung loud and proud as the two teams marched down the tunnel for the half-time team talks.
I don’t expect much was said in the Watford dressing room – Silva appears to be the kind of manager that knows when his players need to be addressed and will only do so if something has to be changed. Sometimes it’s better to let your squad reflect upon the half among themselves, to make sure they’re all on the same page. At this point I’m just speculating, but whatever Marco did say at half-time, it worked an absolute treat.
The next 25 minutes of football were the best I’ve seen from Watford since I can remember – and that’s saying something going by our standards this season. It didn’t take long at all for us to threaten the Chelsea goal; three minutes after the restart, Kiko Femenía applied the afterburners to full effect as he ran from deep to lay a sumptuous ball at the feet of Brazilian prospect Richarlison – how the ball didn’t hit the back of the net at the end of that move still preys on my mind at this very moment. However, contrary to what one might expect of a stereotypical young South American forward, that miss seemed to spur Richarlison on. Just a minute later, the former Fluminense winger slid an exquisite ball into Roberto Pereyra, completely unmarked in the middle of the area and with all the time in the world – one-on-on with Thibaut Courtois, the coolest man on the pitch was never missing that.
The Watford end went into jubilation. 2-1 up at the home of the Champions of England, and deservedly so. It was a special moment for every Hornet that attended the game, a moment that summed up all the key components of this Watford team – drive, passion, desire, spirit and hunger. Hunger to succeed against all odds, to prove people wrong. A hunger I hadn’t seen at my club since I decided that I was Watford FC.
Unfortunately, the game didn’t end that way. Pereyra was forced off through injury and Antonio Conte replaced Morata with Michy Batshuayi, and suddenly the game was turned on its head. An Azpilicueta header was sandwiched in between two close-range strikes from Batshuayi. The Yellow Army would be returning to Hertfordshire with a superb team performance under their belt, but nothing to show for it.
As I left the ground, I was in disbelief. I was cussing unduly and walked with my hands suspended on my head. I was going through an overload of emotions – just half an hour ago Watford were still winning away at Chelsea and they looked like seeing the game out. Yet there I was, mingling once again among a sea of blue, having witnessed a bitterly disappointing last 20 minutes of football. It’s all part of the game, I know, but any fan of the sport will know how hard it is to see a match slip away from you in that fashion.
About 10 minutes later, I found myself on a pleasantly quiet street in Kensington, and I took a moment to reflect upon the game. I suddenly came across a thought that staggered me. “I’m a Watford fan feeling hard-done by after a 4-2 loss at Chelsea”. I mustered up a wry smile and chuckled to myself. To feel let down by this football club would be criminal. In 2013 everyone was asking: “What will happen when all the loans go back to Udinese?”. And now here we stand, four years later, flying high in the Premier League and proving that we can compete with England’s elite. I really do love my Watford.
What do you make of these comments Watford fans? Let us know in the comments below!